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Blow to abortion in Arkansas 

Also, Supremes motivate Rutledge and more.

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Blow to abortion

in Arkansas

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear Planned Parenthood's appeal of an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that could force the end of medical abortions in Arkansas at clinics in Fayetteville and Little Rock and reduce the state to one operating surgical abortion clinic.

The Supreme Court refused to hear the case even though it had decided in a similar Texas case that a law requiring doctors performing abortions to have hospital admitting privileges placed a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking abortions.

Federal District Judge Kristine Baker had issued a temporary restraining order on the similar 2015 Arkansas law, but was reversed by the 8th Circuit because, it said, Baker hadn't specified how many women would be affected.

Planned Parenthood said it had found no doctors willing to enter a contract because of fear of retribution.

Bettina Brownstein, an attorney for the plaintiffs, including Planned Parenthood and Little Rock Family Planning, which provides both medicinal and surgical abortions, said the decision means that as soon as the mandate is received, which could be at any time, the clinics will have to obey the law and stop providing drug abortions pending further court action.

But she said the plaintiffs would renew a request for a temporary restraining order from Baker to hold the law in abeyance while testimony continues about the obstacles presented to women by the state law. The conservative posture of the 8th Circuit is problematic, she acknowledged. The developments are "very worrisome," she said.

Brownstein naturally believes the 8th Circuit ruling was in clear error given the Texas precedent and holds out hope for an eventual win at the U.S. Supreme Court. But, in the meantime, the extent of availability of abortion in Arkansas could be restricted shortly.

Ten Commandments monument challenged

The Arkansas affiliate of the ACLU has filed its promised lawsuit against the Ten Commandments monument recently re-erected on the state Capitol grounds. The Freedom From Religion Foundation also filed a separate federal lawsuit against the monument.

In the ACLU suit, four women who bike and walk past the monument regularly — Donna Cave, Judith Lansky, Pat Piazza and Susan Russell — say they are offended by the promotion of religion on the Capitol grounds. The lawsuit argues it is a violation of the establishment clause for the state to promote the Christian religion over others.

The plaintiffs in the Freedom From Religion Foundation include the FFRF, the American Humanist Association, the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers and seven individual plaintiffs who are religious and nonreligious citizens of Arkansas: Joan Dietz, Gale Stewart, Rabbi Eugene Levy, Rev. Victor H. Nixon, Teresa Grider and Walter Riddick.

Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway), who sponsored legislation to allow the monument, claims it is about the historical basis of law. The ACLU lawsuit details, through Rapert's own words and those of others, the establishment of this monument and rejection of others is in fact all about declaring primacy for the Christian religion. Funding primarily came from evangelical churches and they were prominently represented at monument unveiling. The monument was paid for with private donations. A driver plowed his car into the first monument. The man, who'd destroyed a similar monument in Oklahoma, is hospitalized at the State Hospital.

Four bollards protect the new monument.

Rutledge pushed to certify ballot proposals

The Arkansas Supreme Court got Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's attention last week with its order that she comply with the law and either certify proposed ballot initiatives or propose language more acceptable to her. In response, she certified two ballot proposals that would legalize casino gambling; one that would appoint a legislative redistricting commission with some members free of partisan connections; and one that would lift the $8.50 hourly minimum wage to $12 in stages, finishing in 2022.

In a statement, Rutledge blamed the law and the state Supreme Court for her refusal to certify any of 70 proposals submitted for her review since 2016, including the minimum wage increase, which was identical to law put on the ballot and approved by voters previously.

"I have issued opinions on ballot proposals based on standards set forth in statutes as well as case law of the Arkansas Supreme Court. However, the Arkansas Supreme Court has once again muddied the waters on these standards by offering no insight in its decision requiring me to certify or substitute language of a ballot title that I had previously rejected."

The certification allowed backers of three proposals to publish their proposals and begin the petition process, with hopes of achieving signatures by July 6 — no easy task.

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